by Bailey Green
Sex, violence and theatre create a wicked combination. Rarely Pure Theatre presents Valkyrie, a new work by Thomas McKechnie that promises to “walk a fine line between agony and ecstasy” (says stage manager and RPT member Christina Bryson). In Norse mythology, Valkyries were immortal female warriors that chose who lived and died on the battlefield. These Valkyries are on a different mission, in a different time and sans immortality. Bradley and Erin (played by Monique Renaud and Tara Koehler) have both undergone very scarring experiences with men. They take it upon themselves to begin a Valkyrie quest to deliver justice to other men who have caused trauma to women. But this night is different. They bring a victim back to their lair. To find out what happens after that, you’ll have to see the show.
Artistic director (and the third member of the Valkyrie cast) Spencer Robson explains more about what is at the core of the piece, “it deals with spousal abuse and with sexism in multiple ways. The most interesting part about this piece, for me, is that the characters are far from heroic. You want to be able to root for them but, though every character might be justified in their actions, they are still bad people. It will be jarring for the audience. There’s justice but it isn’t what you want or expect.”
Valkyrie was born back in February of this year when the members of Rarely Pure (Spencer, Monique and Christina) met with Soulpepper Academy playwright Thomas McKechnie. “We really wanted to do an original piece at Fringe this year. Thomas saw our production of As You Like It and we had a meeting after. We asked if he would be interested in writing for us and he was,” Spencer says. “After that we bounced some ideas off him. He asked us what sort of play we would be interested in, what the traits of the actors were. Eight days later he had the first draft.” What followed were months of workshops and readings. The show’s veteran director Bruce Gooch is also a playwright, so his professional eye helped search the script for adjustments. “Bruce, and Tara who is also a playwright, aren’t afraid to stop and ask questions about the script, which is very new for me. I’m used to working with a more “finished” product,” says Spencer.
Planning has been key to finding balance in this process, especially for Robson as he juggles the roles of co-producer, artistic director and actor. “It sounds like a nightmare every time I say it out loud,” Spencer laughs, “but working with my friends who I trust and respect has really made this show possible.” He also says that taking on different roles on the production side has helped him as a working actor in the industry. “Now when I’m working for someone else, whether a theatre company or on a film set, I understand how difficult the production side is. So now I know that while I may not always understand what is going on or why a decision is made, I know that it isn’t my job to. They [the producers] spent time mulling over that decision, I just wasn’t part of their process.” Spencer continues, “I can better understand where people are coming from. It’s helped me lower my stress levels and just be immediately more comfortable.”
Rarely Pure Theatre was founded in the winter of 2012/2013 with its inaugural production “Until Our Paths Cross Again,” which was written, produced and directed by Monique Renaud. “The fact that Mo did that all on her own just really made me want to jump on board,” Spencer says of the company’s beginnings. Robson, Monique Renaud and Christina Bryson formed the company. The name comes from an Oscar Wilde quote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Now almost two years later, the company has several productions under their belt including, The Pillowman and As You Like It. As a new company their mandate isn’t yet set in stone. They are still open to experimenting as the company collaborates with new artists, like National Theatre School graduate Tara Koehler. The company is passionate about theatre and exploring work that excites them as artists. Spencer says that the commitment to each project comes naturally, “we get to choose what we want to do, the people we want to work with, the plays and themes we want to work on.” The company has sights for the future as well, determining what show, or show(s), they want to do in the fall. Another priority is the re-definition of roles within the company and investing in a better website.
But for now they’re immersed in Valkyrie, facing the powerful and dark piece head-on as opening night approaches.
by Thomas McKechnie, presented by Rarely Pure Theatre as part of the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival
Where: Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgeman Ave, Toronto)
When: July 2-13th, 2014
July 2nd: 10:30pm
July 5th: 8:45pm
July 8th: 7pm
July 9th: 5:15pm
July 10th: 12:00pm
July 12th: 3:30pm
July 13th: 12:00pm
Tickets: $10 at the door, OR you can order online: www.fringetoronto.com as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival